COLOMBO, May 1 (PTI): Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday said he is keen on settling the ethnic conflict with the minority Tamil community by the end of this year as he emphasised that the cash-strapped country could only move forward with the IMF bailout if this long-pending issue is resolved.
Wickremesinghe, in his message to mark International Workers’ Day, said that he expects to reach an agreement by the end of this year to solve the country’s long-drawn ethnic conflict with the help of the government’s commitment to policies that benefit all communities in Sri Lanka.
“The country could only move forward with the IMF programme if two conditions are fulfilled. One is that we must resolve the ethnic conflict. We are continuing our talks on this.”
“I hope to be able to come to some agreement by this year-end. We should not undermine any community. We must move forward protecting the Sinhala majority, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and other minority groups. We must be dedicated to achieving that”, Wickremesinghe stressed.
The island nation has witnessed a three-decade-long brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the North and East, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
Wickremesinghe, who took over as the president last year amidst the unprecedented economic crisis and political turmoil, earlier, underlined the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to grant political autonomy to the minority Tamils in the country.
“We have created economic stability. No food shortages now. Democracy is being practised in the country. Parliament meets without threats. All are free to carry out their work without any hindrance,” the president was quoted as saying in an official press release.
In March the IMF agreed to release a 2.9 billion dollar economic bailout over 4 years, because of which the country was able to move forward, Wickremesinghe, also the country’s finance minister, said.
“Our next task is to implement the agreement reached with the IMF. We will make the necessary legislation and restore normalcy to the economy by 2024,” it said. Wickremesinghe stressed that Sri Lanka must try to achieve 6-7 per cent GDP growth.
“The youth have stressed a change in the economic system. We must listen to them”, Wickremesinghe said referring to the second condition to implement IMF bailout programme.
The 13A provides for the devolution of power to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13A which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.
Wickremesinghe’s effort to initiate talks with the minority Tamil political groups in order to achieve reconciliation by February 4 – the 75th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence did not meet success as the country was grappling with the economic crisis.
Several all-party meets held between December last year and January this year also didn’t reach a conclusion.
Although provincial councils were formed and elections were held since 1988 the Tamils say full powers to the councils have not been devolved by the centre.
Earlier, the Sinhala majority bitterly opposed 13A claiming it would lead to the separation of Tamil regions to form their own state.
Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, make up nearly 75 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population while Tamils make up 15 per cent.